Update on Your Spring FIRE Experience
Hello FIRE Students,
Today, I am writing to continue our dialog about an important issue - the FIRE experience we are planning for you for 2021. This includes Spring, Summer, and Fall 2021 - not just the immediate challenges of Spring 2021.
First, I wish to make it clear to you the values that we place at the center of all of our decision-making and communications with you:
Transparency - we value the truth. We value the trust that we work hard to build with you. We wish you to feel that we have your back, have you covered, and are in this with you and for you. We respect you and want you to have the information you need to navigate your life complexities better.
Mission - we understand and value what we do for a living. We deeply understand the processes of research training, mentorship, apprenticeship, accomplishment, and the arc of professional development we have in store for you. We both know what we're doing regarding our goals for you and how to keep doing them through this challenging time.
Needs / Wants - we understand that we're all missing things that we want. We also know that it's continually essential to keep our needs defined and separated from our wants. We're in the business of understanding and serving your needs, and occasionally the reality of our collaborative lives together is that all the wants can't come along for the ride.
Safety - the ongoing safety of all FIRE students, faculty, and staff is paramount. These challenges will pass, and we will not look back in regret with thoughts of how we could have been more patient, more creative, more long-term in our thinking regarding how we accomplish our mission with, serve our students and protect everyone's short and long-term health.
Empathy - we are all co-navigating a period of great personal and social unrest. We recognize that every community member may be facing a significant challenge, and we want our approaches to offer as much support, flexibility, and empathy as possible.
With these values in mind, I have some new information for you. While we have just recently communicated with you regarding our intent to offer our Spring 2021 courses using the University of Maryland designation of blended, we are now taking a purposeful step to move our courses online.
What does this mean for you and your FIRE experience?
If you read nothing else in this message, please read this - relative to the message I sent just last week, nothing has changed. Not a thing.
We hold steady with our goals to offer:
Safe, Effective and Technologically Progressive Online Courses Targeting Learning, Community and Professional Development
We are confident that the best, most effective, and safest form of course instruction will come from leaning into online. This was the decision we had already made when we listed our courses as blended, and the decision holds steady.
This decision was made with several factors in mind:
Based on direct feedback from you, we estimate that > 50% of FIRE Semester 2 students will be living and engaging their Spring 2021 University of Maryland courses remotely. Offering one FIRE course rather than two means it can be the very best and most effective course possible for all of our students (those that will be on or near campus and those that will not).
FIRE teaching facilities are not built for safe spacing or social distancing. We recognize we could investigate processes that might allow us to find the larger teaching facilities required to instruct groups of 40 safely. We are making the choice to invest our efforts into potentially safer, more effective learning methods that keep FIRE streams as one community (for both remote and near-UMD students). We can do this and do it well if we start planning for that goal now.
Safe and Sustainable In-Person Research Mentorship
We have not given up on the fundamental goal of making our research facilities and training engaged in them available to you with the decision to move our courses from a formal designation of blended to online.
We firmly believe that in-person research and mentorship are the most meaningful and impactful experiences we can offer. We will continue to work with all of our partners at The University of Maryland to make this happen.
That said, I was concerned that a formal course designation of blended did not adequately communicate the uncertainty of outcomes in this area. We live in incredibly complex times, and it is challenging to predict how the progression of COVID-19 will affect the availability of FIRE laboratories in the coming semester. While we continue to navigate this period together, I do not want to over-promise, and under-deliver and I was concerned that blended might have produced this outcome. I recognized that many of you, the students I wake daily to serve, are making complex and life-impacting decisions regarding your Spring housing and other courses you are selecting. With this change in our course listing, we are attempting to both communicate with you as transparently and honestly as possible in a manner that supports your decision-making while also letting you know that we continue to work hard for potential (but also optional) in-person engagements.
I want to close this message with clear guidance on why you should not let this change affect your plans with FIRE.
Choose a FIRE cluster, choose a FIRE stream.
Stay with this process.
Remember the long-term goals we have for you and the time we have left together to fulfill them:
Research Experience - we strongly believe we will provide community and training this Spring that will ensure you gain readiness and experience in authentic research methods and engage in questions relevant to the greatest challenges of our time. We know that with the combination of FIRE Semester 2, our FIRE Summer Fellows & FIRE Summer Scholars programs, FIRE Semester 3, and our FIRE Leadership Program we still have a long runway of time and opportunity together. Yes, the Spring has many challenges ahead, but many authorities offer hope that the Summer and subsequent Fall offer improvements that can sustain our collective hope.
Career Readiness - FIRE is about more than research experience. We are committed to developing your demonstrable capacities in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, professionalism, and leadership. We know how to continue these goals during this time of uncertainty and accelerate them when conditions improve. They will.
Finally, every FIRE research stream is preparing additional information about what research and scholarship might look like this Spring. We will have this information complete and ready for you before The FIRE Summit on Monday, November 16, and will send a follow-up message when it is ready.
I welcome your feedback, questions, and concerns. Please respond to this message at any time, and I will follow-up with you as quickly as possible.
You have made decisions and investments in your FIRE training and have the most exciting step to come - choosing and joining your FIRE cluster and stream. I promise there are many opportunities ahead for us to make FIRE everything you wanted and remain firmly committed to fulfilling these goals safely in the year we have together.
I wish you the best and ask you to take care of your physical and mental health continually. Look for an opportunity to be kind to someone else today, as well.
Director of Discovery-Based Learning
Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost
University of Maryland